Travelling Australia - Journal 2013
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12 July 2013

Terry Smith rest area to Normanton (Matilda Highway)
The morning was the usual bright one with blue sky and the sun warming things up. We were soon on our way north towards Normanton; the road continued to be reasonable with about 80 kilometre an hour a convenient speed. Traffic was light, mainly caravans and a few trucks; roadkill was fairly rare and represented a surprising variety of animals; kangaroos/wallabies, pigs, a cow, at least one possum, and several cats. Many roadkill carcasses were not being eaten by birds but several had the usual assortment of ravens, kites and a few eagles helping themselves.

This continued to be cattle country but only a few herds of cattle were seen in paddocks. The vegetation settled down to being woodland (mostly eucalyptus) with spinifex and acacia understorey. Termite mounds are so common that they tend to be overlooked but they remained in large numbers and seemed to be everywhere.

The rest area we had used overnight had been at 174 metres elevation and Normanton is only just above sea level so we expected there would be a steady downhill slope for the rest of the day. We did not expect the sudden outcrops of boulders along the road, and in ridges running near the road, providing a contrast to the flat ground with savannah woodland vegetation. After the boulders came to an end the more usual trees and undergrowth returned but at an elevation of 102 metres we came to grassland for ten or twenty kilometres.

rocky outcrop Rocky outcrops.
savannah woodland Typical savannah woodland vegetation.
to Normanton - page 2
181 kilometres from Cloncurry we stopped at Burke and Wills Roadhouse for fuel and a cup of coffee in the caravan. Outside air temperature was up to 28°C and the sun was fairly warm. This roadhouse is at an intersection of roads to Normanton, Burketown, Gregory Downs and Cloncurry and tends to be busy with a variety of camping vehicles, caravans and transports refuelling and their occupants sometimes eating.

The Matilda Highway/Burke Development Road continued north of Burke and Wills Roadhouse as a reasonably good two-lane bitumen road for 50 kilometres until we came to the first single-lane section. Thereafter the road alternated between single-lane and two-lanes erratically. Some road signs indicated there was a section of single or twin lanes for the next 10 or 20 kilometres but these signs were unreliable and we soon ignored them. Sections of single or twin-lane were each from 2 to 20 kilometres long, single-lane roads had short sections of floodway in them which were invaluable when oncoming traffic appeared.

Driving on the single-lane roads was mostly pleasant, especially if there was no other traffic. Verges were flat, mostly clear of big stones and level with the bitumen so pulling over for oncoming traffic was usually not difficult although there was always the nagging concern that tyres may be damaged. Some sections of single-lane had very recently been re-surfaced and were easier driving than much of the two-lane road.

We quickly learnt that use of UHF radio is limited on this road and much of the friendly communication between drivers commonly used on the Carpentaria and Tableland Highways in the Northern Territory to eliminate ambiguity was absent. Many vehicles towing caravans did not have, or use, radios; they were driving around in a fog of ignorance and failed to hear useful messages. For example, on single-lane road I often pulled into a floodway and stopped for an oncoming vehicle because avoiding the probable wear and tear on our left side tyres was worth any additional fuel used accelerating again. After stopping I would call the oncoming vehicle and tell him to stay on the bitumen; then he knew what I was doing and could avoid having his left side tyres on gravel (I was not the only driver to do this on these roads). But oncoming vehicles today didn't hear my call because they were not radio fitted or on another channel; they would needlessly pull off onto the gravel as if I had not stopped and they looked pretty silly bowling along with their left wheels throwing up dust and dirt while the bitumen lane was empty.

Trying to contact overtaking vehicles to ensure they understood we were slowing or stopping so they could comfortably pass was similarly fruitless.

Inability to communicate can be expensive: a couple of days ago I called the driver of a vehicle which had overtaken us to tell him a vent on his van roof was flapping in the wind but there was no response; judging by the way the vent was flapping it was going to break off leaving a repair/replacement bill.

In many cases towing vehicles did not have UHF aerials visible, and we assume they were not radio fitted. In other cases the towing vehicle was on channel 18 or 20 which are used by caravans and motorhomes for communication within groups travelling together and are not, like channel 40, general contact frequencies.

About fifty kilometres before Normanton the final single-lane section ended and we no longer had the frustration of dealing with drivers who couldn't, or wouldn't, communicate. The road was then two-lanes to Normanton. Of the 192 kilometres between Normanton and the Burke and Wills Roadhouse the first and last 50 kilometres of the Burke Developmental Road were two-lane bitumen and the middle 92 kilometres was alternating single-lane and twin-lane sections.

We continued into Normanton until we came to the landmark Purple Pub where we turned left to the caravan park and into an excellent site in a pretty full park (I had booked a week ago). After setting-up we went to the supermarket then the information centre to refresh ourselves on the Normanton area.
to Normanton - page 3
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